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I just downgraded from Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard to the previous release, Tiger. I'd had enough of a recurring glitch that left me looking at the spinning Beach Ball of Death right after Finder starts loading. The only way out: force the computer to power-down.

Judging by the comments posted by Leopard users on Apple's support website, I'm not the only one experiencing this problem. Many folk attribute it to some issue with Parallels, which may be true, but it's not an app I've been running for some time and certainly not after I reinstalled Leopard from scratch. Me, I think it's an issue with Spotlight and possibly Time Machine.

I referred tangentially to the problem in the first two parts of my Leopard review, here and here. The first time it happened, right after my first start-up of the day, I assumed it was a drive problem. But I checked the HDD and it proved to be OK.

Having installed Leopard using the installer's Install and Archive option so all-new system files are created, this time I wiped the hard drive, re-installed the OS and used Time Machine to restore my data. A few days later the glitch materialised again. Once more, I wiped the hard drive, reinstalled Leopard and this time restored a few apps and their data manually. The last time, I also applied the then newly released 10.5.1 update.

Still no joy.

Here's what happens: Leopard boots up, the desktop wallpaper appears, the Dock pops up, Finder loads and displays its menu bar, the Spotlight icon appears... and that's it. The fans start cranking up, so some code is clearly thrashing my MacBook Pro's Core Duo. The Spotlight icon pulses, suggesting its indexing my hard drive.

That's fine as it goes, but the problem is, it never returns control to the user. Click on the icon, and the BBoD appears. If I'm really lucky, the desktop icons appear and I can use the Mac. But not Spotlight, which either can't work out how long it will take to index the 80GB (45GB free) hard drive or tells me it'll take 270 hours...

A visit to Activity Monitor and the system logs reveals the process mdworker is crashing over and over again. The drive's index is never being properly written, which forces Spotlight to reindex, which eventually causes mdworker to crash, which... and so on and so on.

An Apple Knowledge Base article refers to these symptoms but lays the blame on an old DivX component. If this was in my system at the start, it certainly wasn't be the time of my third install.

A hardware problem? Well, Leopard runs just fine when I boot up off a (different) external HDD.

Whatever, I had enough, called it quits and went back to Tiger. So far - famous last words? - no problem...

All this highlights just how much of a change Leopard is. Just as the new OS is Apple's fastest-selling yet, it's also proving to be one of the most incompatible with existing apps. What's hit Microsoft since the release of Vista is hitting Apple now.

I should point out that there are many, many folk out there running Leopard with no trouble whatsoever - three of them here in Vulture Central. So I know Leopard works. I also think that its UI and Time Machine automatic back-up feature are big steps forward for the Mac OS.

I just wish I could enjoy them too.

As for my Leopard problem. I suspect it lies somewhere between Time Machine and Spotlight. Spotlight was originally set to index the TM archive on my external hard drive , even though when I rebuilt my system the first time, I disabled Time Machine. But of course the TM data was still on the external drive and still being read by Spotlight.

I've cleaned out the external drive now - I hope - but I can't quite bring myself to upgrade to Leopard again. Maybe I'll wait until 10.5.2 comes out. Or maybe I'll just wait a few more years until I next upgrade my computer, and I've never said that about a Mac OS X update before.

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